By: Lindsey Murphy, OTR/L
Water is an essential part of our daily lives. We use water on a regular basis to brush our teeth, wash our hands, cook meals, water the lawn, and, of course, stay hydrated. The impact of water on the body is very significant yet often overlooked when attempting to address sensory and emotional regulation, energy levels, attention and memory, sleep, and constipation challenges.
If we consider the link between chronic dehydration and sensory or social/emotional struggles, the common thread is that our brain tissue is made up of approximately 75% water. Without our required levels of water, the brain begins to develop shortages of neurotransmitters, hormones, and amino acids such as tryptophan (which converts into serotonin in the brain). As a result, symptoms related to depression, insecurity, anxiety, or emotional dysregulation may increase. Energy levels may become more lethargic and motivation may decrease as a direct impact of dehydration.
In addition to difficulties with maintaining a proper energy level throughout the day, our ability to focus and attend to tasks also decreases significantly without proper hydration. Brain fog is a common side effect of a lack of water. This is due to the electrical impulses in the brain not firing at the correct rate because of the impact that dehydration has on neurotransmitters. Research studies show that for every 1% of dehydration that a person experiences, a 5% decrease in cognitive abilities will result. After reaching a 2% dehydration level, studies have indicated that symptoms such as short-term memory loss, inattention, and working memory challenges may ensue. This makes it challenging for adults and children alike to participate in their daily activities at their full mental capacities.
Another toll that dehydration takes on the body that affects daily activity participation is insomnia. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, cortisol, and acetylcholine are in charge of decreasing the cell activity in the brain in order to promote relaxation during the sleep cycle. Our ability to fall and stay sleep can be negatively impacted as a direct result of dehydration causing a shortage of neurotransmitters in the brain. As we’ve all experienced at some point or another, a lack of sleep can be very detrimental to our ability to perform our daily activities to the best of our abilities.
While insomnia can be a tremendous burden, chronic constipation plagues many in our society as well. Experts agree that one of the most preventable yet common reasons that people experience chronic constipation is dehydration. Water has a crucial role in our digestion process by keeping our intestines smooth and flexible while allowing food to flow freely through the intestines without creating blockages. This allows stools to remain soft instead of becoming firm and challenging to pass.
In order to promote a healthy overall well-being for our bodies, experts recommend that an adult should consume between 64-120 ounces of water each day depending on individual needs and activity levels. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine indicates that an adult male should consume an average of 120 ounces of water, whereas an adult female’s recommended intake is approximately 92 ounces. See the following link for additional recommended guidelines depending on age:https://www.livestrong.com/article/83899-recommended-daily-servings-groups/
There are lots of creative and effective ways to ensure that your family is attaining enough water each day. Creating or purchasing time-marked water bottles is a simple way to track how much water each person is consuming while ensuring that water intake is spread evenly throughout the day. Limiting or avoiding caffeinated beverages becomes easier when making water more flavorful or exciting. Infusing lemons or other fruits that children and/or adults can tolerate is a fun and healthy way to encourage drinking more water. As the spring and summertime brings about gardening weather, eating foods with high water content such as cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, pineapples, strawberries, cranberries, oranges, etc. can increase overall water consumption. Associating drinking water with normal daily activities is a great reminder to drink more fluids, such as drinking a glass of water while cooking dinner or after checking the mailbox. Finding fun straws to drink through is particularly motivating for kids, and it encourages drinking more volume in a quicker manner.
As the weather warms up, be kind to and take care of yourself by enjoying the wellness benefits of staying hydrated.